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Hancock scrambles to deny accusations of ‘criminal, disgraceful behaviour’

Labour's Richard Burgon says ‘government’s mishandling of the Covid pandemic amount to social murder’

THE Tory government was accused of “social murder” yesterday over its botched handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, as Health Secretary Matt Hancock scrambled to deny Dominic Cummings’s accusations of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour.”

Labour MP Richard Burgon delivered the broadside as Mr Hancock failed to answer questions in the Commons regarding the former Downing Street aide’s testimony.

Giving evidence to a Commons committee on Wednesday, Mr Cummings repeatedly attacked Mr Hancock as he highlighted mistakes on testing, personal protective equipment and the failure to protect vulnerable people in care homes.

Mr Cummings’s claim that tens of thousands of lives were unnecessarily lost was backed up by a leading scientist, who said that between 20,000 and 30,000 lives could have been saved if Britain had locked down a week earlier.

Imperial College London Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling was instrumental in persuading the government to bring in the first lockdown, said there was a growing realisation in early March last year that the country was heading for a large number of deaths.

Mr Burgon said that Britain has one of the world’s worst death tolls because the government didn’t do what was possible.

“We told them to follow a zero-Covid plan like in East Asia. They refused,” he said.

“Tens of thousands of people are dead because of this government.

“We know they delayed when they should have acted, we know they lied about protecting care homes, we know they put profit before public health.”

He said the government had been criminally negligent and that ministers must now “face the full force of the law for their actions.

“There is a long-held concept in our country of social murder — when the ruling elite acts in a way that forces people into conditions that inevitably lead to avoidable premature deaths,” he said.

“The government’s actions and its mishandling of the Covid pandemic amount to social murder.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who quizzed Mr Hancock in Parliament, has written a letter to the Health Secretary to demand that he address unanswered questions.

“The families of the 128,000 who have lost their lives deserve full and transparent answers, and we must ensure that these mistakes are never allowed to happen again,” Mr Ashworth said.

Mr Hancock told the Commons that the attacks on him by Mr Cummings were unsubstantiated.

Asked whether the unnecessary deaths were due to his action or inaction, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who faced claims from his former top adviser that he was unfit for office, said: “No, I don’t think so.”

He insisted that “at every stage we have been governed by a determination to protect life.”

The PM was asked to confirm whether he said that he would rather see “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown. But he dodged the question, insisting that he was “getting on with the job of delivering the roadmap that I think is the sensible way forward.”

He has previously denied making the comment, which Mr Cummings told MPs he heard Mr Johnson say in his Downing Street study.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that locking down a week earlier would unarguably have saved 20,000 to 30,000 lives.

University College London Professor Susan Michie, who is also a member of Sage, told Sky News that there are examples of the science being “side-stepped” when findings didn’t suit the government’s aims.

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